The climate crisis isn’t around the corner — it’s now. Look at California, look at Australia

Bushfires continue to burn on Kangaroo Island, Australia this week. Almost 100 army reservists have arrived to assist with clean-up operations following the catastrophic bushfire that killed two people. At least 56 homes were also destroyed. Bushfires continue to burn on the island, with firefighters pushing to contain the blaze before forecast strong winds and rising temperatures return. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Australia is burning–16 million acres (so far)–the fire killing 25 people and nearly half a billion animals.

So far.

This is what the climate crisis looks like. Florida: pay attention.

Australia’s own greenhouse gas emissions are small–with a population of 25 million, it’s not a whole lot bigger than Florida. But Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, responsible for sending more CO2 out into the world than any country other than the oil-drunk nations of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Florida has a lot in common with Australia. Not coal, obviously: denial. And decades of leaders allergic to science who are just now, grudgingly, starting to admit that maybe melting glaciers, compromised aquifers, mass extinction, drowning islands, and killer storms aren’t, in fact, part of some Chinese hoax.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is a climate change skeptic and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, famous for once waving a lump of coal around in Parliament, saying mockingly, “Don’t be scared.”

Taken aback by the anger of his countrymen and women (pro tip: don’t go on vacation to Hawaii while your country’s burning) Morrison’s beginning to kinda sorta admit humans may have something to do with climate change, à la Red Tide Rick Scott, who is now prepared to utter the words “climate change is real.”

But like his master in the Oval Office, a gaslighter’s gonna gaslight: when the former governor, the man who destroyed growth management in the state, the man who banned any mention of climate change, suddenly claimed he had “invested hundreds of millions of dollars to address sea-level rise,” the Miami New Times sighed, “what makes Scott a uniquely awful man is not so much the impact he’s had on the planet — still bad — but the brazenness with which he will lie to absolutely anyone, publicly.”

Our current governor wins praise just for saying “climate change” out loud and hiring some scientists. If you aren’t paying close attention, you might think Florida is on the road to environmental wokeness.

On the contrary–we are committing environmental suicide.

Yes, Gov. Ron DeSantis will talk about climate change. Florida now has a Chief Resilience Officer. She’s not a scientist or an engineer but a hostage negotiator, though given the anti-science, pro-money bent of the Florida Legislature, that may actually be helpful.

DeSantis says he wants to set up more charging stations for electric cars. He’s concerned about our springs. He wants clean-up money. He’ll hold some meetings.

Meanwhile, he and legislative leaders have signed off on three new, utterly unnecessary, habitat-destroying, wetland-wrecking, panther-killing new toll roads in places where there are already plenty of roads.

Because nothing says “environmental stewardship” like ruining some of Florida’s last pristine wilderness in the name of making rich landowners even richer and encouraging sprawl.

And nothing displays sincere green cred like allowing “exploratory” drilling for oil in the Everglades and one of North America’s most biodiverse–and endangered– regions, the Apalachicola River basin.

Florida’s government is playing around at the margins while South Florida floods–last month, the Fort Lauderdale airport had to close because of high water.

In the Keys, local officials are trying to figure out if they can raise some roads (at an estimated cost of $25 million per mile) to keep them dry, knowing that some of the islands will be under water in a few decades.

The climate crisis isn’t around the corner. It’s now.

Salt water’s getting into our drinking water.  Our corals are dying. And fed by warming seas, storms are getting stronger.

Hurricane Michael, a Cat 5-plus, flattened a big hunk of West Florida, tearing up houses and roads, ripping out power lines and pipes, destroying something like 500 million trees.

Those trees in Jackson, Calhoun, Bay, Franklin, and Gulf counties were many people’s livelihood, their retirement accounts, their children’s college fund. Now they’re lying on the ground, fuel for fires that have already decimated thousands of acres.

Fire is part of the climate crisis. Look at California. Look at Australia.

Florida hasn’t experienced anything on that scale–yet. It rains a lot here.

Except when it doesn’t.

The Legislature is about to come to town, fat with their usual schemes for doing as little as possible while looking as good as possible to the Big Money which owns them.

The governor will tell us how great everything is when he delivers the State of the State address.

They will do their damnedest to gaslight us all–again.

So keep these images in your mind: the flooded streets of Miami. The blue tarp-covered roofs of Jackson County. Fish kills on the Gulf Coast; blue-green algae in the St. Johns, the St. Lucie, the Santa Fe, the Caloosahatchee–and the smoke-choked, charred land of Australia.

Demand that your legislators stop talking about the climate crisis and act.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.